Thursday, October 02, 2008

Short Story - Armageddon

It was a meeting like no other. Clouds wheezed by. Thunders clapped, but did not touch the two. The stars above were the size of the moon. The moon filled half the sky. It was bright. Really bright. But the Sun could not be seen. Finally, Man and God were meeting.

It was God who had set the ball rolling. Prime Ministers and Presidents of all countries in the world had received an email stating ‘We should meet. There’s much to discuss.’ The mails had then gone on to recount each recipient’s entire life in excruciating details. There were also images attached to the mail from various points in time of his or her life. They were pictures taken from all sorts of humanly impossible angles; God was evidently intent on demonstrating his powers without humility. The mails were signed off with ‘Yours truly, God’.

Intrigued but ashamed to discuss it, the Heads of State, had kept the matter to themselves. So God had written again. This time He had used the ‘Reply to all’ option. That had woken everybody up.
A hasty meeting had been convened. At the end of it, a well framed reply was sent back to God. It ran thus
We apologize for the delay in responding to your summons. We were too taken aback by your first mail to take it seriously.
It is impossible to find the words to describe what all of us are feeling at the moment. Suffice to say, it’s the most important event in our lives.
Having said that, you will agree with us, God, that your invitation is extremely vague. Could you kindly elaborate upon what is it that you wish to discuss? Also, you have not mentioned the time and venue for this meeting. We don’t wish to be disrespectful, but you do realize that your request is most unusual.
We’ve already chosen a panel to be present at the meeting on our behalf.
Awaiting your revert…

God had responded almost immediately.

Choose one man only. I’ll get in touch with him myself. I wish to discuss the end of the world

The original panel, consisting of the representatives of the then most powerful nations, was grief stricken. Each member had wanted to meet Him. But now that only one would be allowed, they couldn’t allow anyone from the panel to meet God, since the meeting could lead to a significant shift in the balance of power towards that country. Therefore, it was decided that the Head of State of the poorest country would be chosen. Even if the fellow got any vital inputs, it wouldn’t make much of a difference to the world order. In any case, it was a risk they had to take.

The end of the world? When? Wasn’t that supposed to be billions of years in the future? Why discuss it now? In fact, why discuss it at all? Why with man? Hadn’t God taken enough decisions unilaterally to not be able to do it on His own?

The best and most highly regarded practitioners of their respective fields from various fields were brought together to ponder over what clarifications the chosen one should seek from God. It was all done amidst much fanfare. After all, they were about to learn firsthand, what their predecessors had wasted lifetimes in search of.

At length, it was decided that all was in readiness for the meeting to occur. A mail was sent to God requesting further instructions. That night, the chosen one disappeared.

Clouds wheezed by. Thunders clapped, but did not touch him. The stars above were the size of the moon. The moon filled half the sky. It was bright. Really bright. But the Sun could not be seen.

What place was this? Was he dreaming? Or was it heaven? He looked around. It didn’t prove to be much help since it looked the same in all directions. He rubbed his eyes, pinched himself and looked around again. Still the same. He was starting to get quite flustered with the whole thing, when he spotted someone in the distance. The person was squatting down, looking downwards with his head between his knees, as if in deep thought. When calling out to him didn’t work, the chosen one started walking towards this strange being.
From closer, he discerned respectable attire. A nice clean black trouser and a freshly ironed gleaming white shirt. No footwear.

Walking right up to him, the man asked, “Hi, you from these parts?”

The figure slowly uncoiled itself, evidently with great distress, and stood up, face to face.
Average height. Slightly heavyset. Nice, calm face. Common. No facial hair. Blue eyes. Glasses. Thinning hair. One or two grey. On closer inspection, patches of perspiration on the shirt. Obviously out of breath.

Heaving in great lungfulls of air, he replied
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am”. Enormous gasping breaths again.
“You look pretty winded, friend. Anything the matter?”
“Yes, you idiot! I’ve had to pull you up all this way, that’s what the matter is!”
“Pull me up, eh? What’s that supposed to mean? Look here, surely you don’t want me to believe you are God or something, do you?”
“What utter nonsense! Of course, I am God. Who else could bring you up all this way?”
“Oh yeah? Even if I were to believe you brought me up here, how did you get so tired? I mean, you are God, right?”
“Spare me the sarcasm, kid. I am not what I used to be once. These things take a lot out of me, these days. But one must keep up appearances.”
“They do? How do you control the entire world then?”
“Correction, it’s the entire universe. And who said I control it? The whole thing has been out of hand for ages! I am sorry kid, there’s not much I can do about it now”
“What? You don’t control the world? I mean, you can’t? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? You made the damn thing, right?”
God sighed. This was going to take longer than he’d estimated.
“Oh yeah? You telling me that, eh? Let me explain this to you with an example. You guys have this thing called the financial market – Stock markets, commodity markets and all that jazz. You made it right? Look where it’s gone now!”
Ten seconds of silence.
“But, but, we are only human beings. You are God!”
“That’s the whole point, son. I am only God! Everybody has limitations, you know. You don’t know how much it hurt when that woman wrote The God of small things! Although, I gather the book had nothing to do with me. Frankly, now that we are on the topic, I never did realize why she called the book that. But that’s beside the point of course.”
“So then, all these years, all the faith, worship…it was all…a waste?”
“Why, of course not! I loved every bit of it!”
“What? You think we did it for you to love it?”
“Oh. So you did not do it so I would love it? Why did you do it then?”
“I...I, because we had faith in you”
“Yeah, whatever”
This was it. Man’s greatest hope. Dashed. Pummeled. Sunk.
God, of course, sensed the Man’s dejection.
“Hey, don’t be too disappointed kid! Look at the brighter side. I still know most of the answers to the questions you’ve always wanted to ask! Is that not enough? Once you know what I know, you can work things out for yourself. Why on earth would you need me?”
“You do? I am not sure I want to believe you anymore…” the Man’s voice trailed off.
“Of course I do. Go on, try me”
“OK, tell me, is there life on other planets in the universe?”
“Yes, not on as many as once used to be though”
“Uh – huh? What happened?”
“You happened. I told you, you guys got out of control, didn’t I. I had to keep shutting down other planets so as to concentrate on yours. There’re very few left now” said God. “Of course, all the sacrifices didn’t matter in the end. I lost control anyway” added God, with a touch of disappointment in his voice.
“So, these other life forms, they’re not men like us? I mean, they’re not as well developed as us?”
“No, they’re better developed that you are. Earth was the first planet I developed, you know. Afterwards, I got better at my work. Most of the other planets have extremely intelligent beings. They’re intelligent enough to know how not to lose control”
“What? You mean we’re the worst beings you’ve created? Why keep us then? Why not let us go?”
“You were my first job, son. I’ve gotten terribly sentimental about you fellows…”
“So, you’re going to tell me where we’ll find these other living beings?”
“Do I look like a fool? I will not have you getting in touch with those lovely creatures and poisoning their minds as well…trust me; you don’t need to meet them. You’ll be fine on your own.”
“You think that’s going to stop us from searching? In fact, now that you’ve told me that there is something to look for, we’ll try harder than ever before!”
“Dammit! Dammit! Why do I always have to do that! I only hope you guys don’t find that out too soon”
‘We’ll see about that God”, now that the Man had established that God was not what He was expected to be, his attitude had become faintly cocky and patronizing.
“So God, tell me about death. Why do we have to die?”
“There is no reason for it kid. It just happens. If it begins, it must end. It is not my making”
“Oh yeah? So then, you must have begun at some point God? Are you going to die too?”
“Yes Son. I will too, in due course. I’ve grown up like everything else and will grow old like everything else. See, you can start to see a grey hair or two on my head. I’ll of course, outlive your planet quite comfortably, so don’t get too perturbed. I’ll be around for as long as you will be”
“My God! You will die? YOU?”
“Now don’t read too much into it. Like most other things about me, it doesn’t really make any difference”
“Thank God”
“Naah, it’s alright. You carry on with your questions Son.”
“Tell me God, what lies beyond this universe?”
“Ah, you got me there Son. I’ve not the slightest idea, honestly.”
“Yeah well, what’s so shocking about that? Why must I know absolutely everything! I’ve never been outside; I don’t know if there’s an outside.”
“I don’t know what to say God! Every belief, every…”
“Yes, I know. Let’s not get started on that again.”
“So, you mean to tell me you’ve absolutely no control over our planet now?”
“No. There’re still things I can manage. Time, for example. I can still control time”
“Control time? What control? Time just works on its own. Nobody controls it…it just goes on in its own sweet way…”, the Man said, incredulous.
“Ah, that tripe you guys invented! Time on clocks and watches and sundials and who knows what else! You think time moves like that? Steady and rhythmic?”
“It does not?”
“Of course it does not. I don’t know what got that idea into your head in the first place. Tell me Son, have you ever felt time passing at that same boring pace? Have you not sometimes felt it pass too quickly and quite immobile at others?”
“Yes, that we all do! But time still moves at the same pace! It is just our feeling that deceives us…”
“No. It is the clock that deceives you. Why should time be any other way than the way you feel it? If, for you, time just races past, then that’s what matters. For you, it raced past. What the clock shows is absolute junk. It is one of those comic human concoctions to simplify matters. To have the same time for everybody. But in truth Son, time belongs to each of us, in a different way. You know, its one of my last weapons of getting back at you guys. It works beautifully! Whoever pisses me off, I start stretching time for them. It does mean that they live longer, in the true sense of time, but because Men have conditioned themselves so much with the time on the clock, they feel really morose about it. You don’t know how funny it is! To see people grumbling even as they are gaining time! Absolutely heavenly, the feeling!”
The Man pondered over this revelation for a while. This was certainly not turning out to be anywhere close to what he’d expected, but it was becoming quite interesting nevertheless. But it was also starting to seem rather irrelevant. These meandering conversations weren’t going to do much good, if they were to go on forever.
“So, tell me God, why did you want to meet one of us? To discuss the end of the world? What for?”
God’s tone, which had thus far tinged with banter, became earnest.
“Why yes! That is precisely why I’ve convened this meeting. There’s much to discuss. You know and I know that the world is going to end someday. We need to plan how you’re going to survive it. I can’t do it on my own, I need your help.”
“Sure thing God! Of course we’ll help you! But why now? Couldn’t you let us understand the whole thing works a little better before we discuss this?”
“No, I’ve been keeping track of your progress in this direction for a while. And I don’t see much future in it. You’ll keep discovering newer things as you go along, but none of it will be of much assistance in solving the core issue. As I see it, this is as good a time as any to discuss. Besides, I’ve never been able to muster the courage to see for myself how it actually happens. With you around, I’ll have some support.”
“What? You’ve not seen the end of the world? How do you know it even happens then? And you want me to witness it with you? Witness our own destruction!”
“Son, the one human trait that has endlessly fascinated me is how fascinated you are by your own downfall and annihilation. You’re afraid of it, but at the same time you have this ridiculous urge to know what happens and how it happens. Quite, remarkable! That is why, I know, however much you may fear it, but you will want to see how it happens!”
“Alright. If you insist. So, how are we going to do it? Time travel?”
“Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about it! I’ve completely done away with the concept of time travel! It is so much simpler now! But of course, humans can’t use it. Proprietary systems, you see!”
“Yes, we’ll see about that later. But, what is that? No time travel, you said? How else does one go forward in time?”
“That’s the thing Son, you don’t have to go forward anymore. You know…hold on, let me start from the beginning. I used to do it the time travel way for such a long time! Going backwards and forwards, trying to change this and that. Over the years, the changes I made or tried to make became rarer, but I still enjoyed watching. But anyways, I read this awesome novel a few years ago…Slaughterhouse – Five! It’s brilliant, I tell you! That’s where I came across the concept of continuous time. As if, time is just a constant string, stationary in its infinitesimal fractions forever. Of course, it was factually not completely correct, but it gave me the idea of stringing together time in parallel, rather than the series I’d been using for so long…”
“Hey, God, wait a bit. I can’t make any sense out of this. What infinitesimal fractions?”
“Don’t bother yourself with the technicalities Son. If you really are interested, go read that book. The point is, I don’t time travel now. I can place Time like a chain in front of me and study it. And modify it, if I want to”
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s do it”
“Yes, let’s do it. Wait a minute, let me get everything ready.”
Saying this, God clapped his hands a few times. Magically, a strange device appeared from nowhere. It looked faintly similar to internet servers, but this Man was unaware of the resemblance. He had hardly ever used a desktop computer in his life. The most involved operation he’d ever done on a computer was attaching a file on a mail.
God pressed what appeared to be a button on the device. Immediately, from an aperture in it, a brilliant ray emerged, a ray so bright, that the brightness of the ambience described in preceding sections paled in comparison. God made a few swishes on the clouds that were floating around and created a hazy white screen in them. He guided the light from the device to this screen, whereupon, an image, of quite embarrassing quality, started to flicker on screen.
“There, all set” said God, wiping off the perspiration on his forehead for even these tasks evidently required much exertion on his part.
The image on the screen was of a non-descript wasteland that could have been anywhere and in any era on earth. If it was earth at all. The Man enquired into the matter.
“It is Earth Son” replied God, “The image is from a place in Afghanistan, present day. I always start from there. It is an image that has remained much the same over the years. Of course, I am talking about what humans called modern times. It looked quite different at the start.”
“Right. So then, how do we see into the past and the future with this thing?”
“I just have to command it to show me what I want to. See! 1945, Hiroshima”
Immediately, the image changed to what indeed appeared to be a Japanese city. Even as they saw, the flash of light and the mushroom that signified the dropping of the bomb appeared on screen.
“There’re certain incidents that I’ve saved as favourites”, explained God, “So when I say Hiroshima and 1945, the device automatically takes me to the moment of the bombing. No need to specify dates.
“Extraordinary!” exclaimed the man, “Why, you do have something to show for our faith after all!”
God smiled broadly when he heard this. He was obviously gladdened by the compliment.
“So God, show me what 10,000 BC looked like. You know, I saw a movie by that name recently. Such trash! I am sure it didn’t look like that at all. I am curious now!”
“I am afraid there’s not much time Son. Taking it that far back is going to take some time. Let us not waste too much time on this. In any case, it’ll take time to move forward to the end.”
The Man sighed. But in the absence of choice, he had to agree. God, of course, had not really waited for him to agree.
“To the End” he commanded.
The screen became dark and fuzzy as the device set to work. Every once in a while, the Man could discern a place he could recognize. He thought he’d spotted the Statue of Liberty once, the pyramids a couple of times. For a very brief instant, he’d also seen his village, where he’d grown up.
“Why, that is my village!”
“Yes Son, it is. I thought you’d be happy to spot it”
“You bet I am!”
After around twenty minutes, as per the human definition of time, the images rushing past slowed down and gradually stopped.
There were thousands of people on the screen, looking upwards at a glowing red sky. The soil upon which they were standing was almost as red as the sky. There was smoke coming out of it. No signs of vegetation could be seen.
They started noticing other details. What had initially appeared to be fireworks in the sky were now discernible as thousands of meteors and comets scorching the sky. Every now and then, one of them rammed into the planet in the distance, and enormous sprouts of fire, molten rocks and gas flew. Suddenly, one of them struck the ground very close to the screen, wiping out the teeming mass of human beings on screen in an instant.
“Dear God!” exclaimed God
“Dear me!” said the Man
“I can’t watch this any longer! I must stop it. Stop!”
Instantly, the image disappeared.
God and Man looked at each other. They knew what they were to see would be along these lines. But now that they’d seen it, it looked unthinkable.
“We’ve got to do something to stop that!” said the Man.
“Yes. We must. That is why I called you. Now, listen. I’ve hit upon this idea…”
“Yes yes, whatever it is. Just do it!”
“Hear me out now Son. See, as I’d told you, I can control time. One of the things I can do is delineate time.”
“Yes. Basically, I can pick up any length of time from anywhere and insert in someplace else. For example, I can cut that Hiroshima Bombing part out and insert it at the beginning of the second world war!”
“You could? And what happens then?”
“I am not sure. I’ve never done it obviously. Doing it has its risk. Not knowing the outcome is one of them.”
“Hmm. So then, what do you propose?”
“What I propose is that we cut that last bit, the end, out of there and insert it somewhere else. What should happen, I guess, is that Armageddon will come and go and then, the planet will jump back to how it was just before it. And because, the Armageddon is already behind us, there will be none after that!”
“But what happens when the end of time is supposed to be reached but does not? Where do we go from there?”
“Not sure, as I said. But because there is no logical reason for time to stop at that point, it will probably continue. So basically, a whole new series of time will be created! One that will last forever!”
“But without the Sun and whatever else we require to make the planet livable?”
“Don’t worry about those things. In time, your science will progress sufficiently to combat those problems. You will no longer need the Sun or the resources of the planet to survive. All that the planet will be worth is ground beneath your feet.”
“But if that’s the case, why go to so much trouble? We can shift to some other planet in another system”
God chuckled to himself. That is one thing I cannot have you doing, he thought. Can’t let you get out and reach my other kingdoms. And terminate my command there as well!
Aloud he said, “No Son. There lies the problem. Space travel through such long distances is something the human resource will never satisfactorily develop. You’ll know what to do when you get to another planet, but you’ll never have the ability to get there”
“Hmm, sounds good to me. Anyway, you are the God. Do whatever you want to. What can I say?”
“Of course. But I wanted Man to know what I am going to do. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done for you. One that will decide how long your planet shall survive.
It was done.
They replayed the thing to see what happened. Armageddon was unleashed. And subsequently leashed. Earth returned from the dead, as did its inhabitants. Eventually, they reached to where Armageddon should actually have come.
God and Man waited with bated breath to see how time would unfurl itself thereon. But it did not. The whole system remained there, frozen in eternity.


Souva Chattopadhyay said...

A clever mix of Vonnegut and Marker, eh! Nice one, anyway... liked the playful tone, the concept of a sly and, at the same time, unsure God. The end it also intriguing. Good job...

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